Chest pain after eating spicy foods

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What makes spicy foods spicy?

Spicy foods tend to be fiery hot, which is caused by organic compounds known as capsaicinoids, with capsaicin being the most well-known. They are the active ingredients that make spicy foods spicy.

Capsaicinoids are natural irritants that you can find in chili peppers, cayenne peppers, etc.

The reason for the irritant is an adaptation in defense against people who try to eat them.

The prime targets of the capsaicin on the tongue are the VR1 receptors. It binds with the receptors and causes a burning sensation that is signaled to the brain.

Some people might be tempted to think that the organic compound can be made less burning by drinking water, but this is entirely untrue. Capsaicin is an oil, and it does not mix water. Drinking water will only spread the burn and increase irritation.

Chili peppers

Why does your chest hurt after eating spicy foods?

Many people experience chest pain after consuming very spicy foods. These are the most common reasons people think of (even though, they are not necessarily true, please read on):

  • Heart attack: Occasionally symptoms might be so severe, that one tends to believe it’s a heart attack, but usually this is not the case.
  • Acid reflux: Spicy foods are known for triggering acid reflux, but this again might not always be the case.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: This refers to the damaged lining of the esophagus due to acid reflux. If you have Barrett’s esophagus, spicy foods are very likely to cause chest pain.
  • Stomach ulcers: Having stomach ulcers is considered to be another possible cause of stomach pain after eating spicy foods. However, this might not be the case.

Can spicy foods cause a heart attack?

It’s good to be aware of the most common heart attack symptoms, and if you think you might have a heart attack, you should always look for immediate medical help. However, the good news is that according to multiple studies, capsaicin does not cause cardiovascular problems.

On the contrary, the studies mentioned above found that those people who eat spicy foods often tend to live longer:

“Although the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for pungent agents such as capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers), may in part be responsible for the observed relationship.” (source)

This doesn’t mean that spicy foods cannot cause a heart attack, but even if they do, it’s probably not because of the spice content.

For example, red or processed meats put your heart at risk. They might cause heart problems regardless of whether they are spicy.

Can spicy foods trigger heartburn?

Spicy foods have been known to be a leading cause of heartburn, however, it is still debated whether spicy foods can trigger acid reflux (1, 2) or not (3, 4).

Capsaicin in small amounts might help digestion, which helps prevent reflux symptoms. However, it looks like eating too much capsaicin can indeed trigger heartburn.

If you have GERD or frequent reflux attacks, it’s quite possible that the lining of your esophagus is already damaged to a certain extent (Barrett’s esophagus). In such cases spicy foods can further irritate the esophagus, causing pain similar to heartburn.

Can spicy foods cause ulcers?

Even though spicy foods have been known to aggravate the symptoms of ulcers in some people, they are not the cause of ulcers.

Ulcers are caused by a certain bacteria known as helicobacter pylori which come from chronic use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, and contaminated food or water. Using certain medicines like aspirin and ibuprofen for prolonged periods can also damage tissues and, as a result, cause ulcers.

According to the University of Missouri:

A study on capsaicin — the ingredient responsible for spiciness in peppers — showed it might even be good for the stomach.

“Capsaicin actually stimulated the stomach to produce protective mechanisms against ulcers,” Bechtold said.

He added there is also no evidence spicy foods hurt already formed ulcers. If, however, spicy food causes you abdominal discomfort, turn down the heat on your diet

(source)

The American College of Gastroenterology seems to agree that spicy foods do not cause ulcers, although they mention that certain foods might irritate an ulcer that is already there.

How to stop stomach pain after eating spicy food?

Most people typically turn to cold water to get rid of the burning feeling in their mouths. However, this does not work as they would expect and makes the sensation spread all over.

Beer and soda should also be avoided when trying to stop stomach pain after consuming spicy food.

Some of the most effective ways to get rid of the pain are drinking milk or yogurt. The milk will dissolve the capsaicin from the reactive area and remove it. The chemical that makes spices spicy can also dissolve in alcohol, olive oil, and peanut butter.

If you have heartburn, both milk and yogurt might have an additional soothing effect on your esophagus.

To get relief from the scorching feeling, you can eat rice or bread, which will soak up the molecules and give you instant relief.

Sugar and honey in small amounts might also help as they readily absorb the spicy oil and leave you feeling better. Be careful with sugary foods if you are prone to acid reflux. However, honey might provide further relief.

Lime and lemons are also a ready way to stop stomach pain and effectively neutralize capsaicin. Additionally, creamy fruits and vegetables such as bananas are also known to help in removing the capsaicin from your digestive system.

Final thoughts

Spicy foods have a very bad reputation of causing chest pain after eating, but the popular beliefs are not always backed by scientific studies.

A few things to consider when spicy foods cause chest or abdominal pain:

  • Are you eating too much spice? Spice in small might actually be beneficial, eating too much is likely to cause symptoms.
  • Is it the spice? We tend to eat meat with spice, however, it is easy to overeat spicy meats. Red meats are especially slow to digest. Maybe it’s the meat that is causing the symptoms.

Whatever the reason is, if you experience chest pain after eating spicy foods, you might consider eliminating them from your diet.